Friday, June 13, 2008
REPORTING FROM ... GAME 4 OF THE NBA FINALS (WITH CHRIS BROUSSARD!)
Is The Truth paving his way to Springfield?
The series is obviously over, we just don't know if it's going back to Boston or not. The Celtics have shown they're the superior team, having beaten the Lakers in five of their six meetings this season. It's tough enough to be down 3-1, but after such a heart-wrenching collapse, the Lakers can't help but be deflated in Game 5.
Paul Pierce is probably establishing himself as a Hall of Famer. That's right, a Hall of Famer. Among eligible players, every single starter on an NBA Finals team with a career scoring average of more than 20 points has made it into the Hall of Fame. Pierce has a career average of 23.1 and has a great chance of being the MVP of this series. As strong as he's been offensively, averaging 19 ppg, he's been just as great defensively. He did a terrific job guarding Kobe in the second half last night. And remember, he did a great job on Tayshaun Prince and LeBron James in the previous two series.
Ray Allen may also be moving towards the Hall of Fame. His career average is 21.1 points and he is Pierce's main competition for MVP of this series. For the record, Mark Aguirre averaged 20 points for his career and won two titles with Detroit, but he is not in the Hall of Fame. (Remember, I said "more than 20 ppg.") World B. Free had a career scoring average of 20.3 ppg and went to the Finals with Philadelphia in 1977. But Lloyd, as he was then known, didn't start for those Sixers.
I remember James Posey as a shy kid back when I covered him at Twinsburg High School in suburban Cleveland. I would've never expected him to become the vocal leader on an NBA team with three superstars, but P.J. Brown said that's what Posey is for these Celtics.
"Pose is a very animated guy,'' Brown said. "He's very intense. He's a big part of this team and he showed his leadership tonight. Pose gets on guys' behinds and he was the first one to say tonight [after the game], 'Hey, we haven't done anything. We've still got one more to go. There's nothing to be celebrating about, so get your rest and let's be ready to play Sunday.'''
It was Posey doing the talking when the Celtics were down big early on. "His number one thing was that we weren't playing any defense,'' Brown said. "He said we're not doing what we're supposed to do on the defensive end. He kept repeating that time after time. He said if we're going to win this game it's going to be on the defensive end, not the offensive.''
Sweating as the throng of reporters mobbed him inside the cramped visitors locker room at the Staples Center, Posey chuckled when I reminded him of how timid he was in high school. He said he began to come out of his shell while playing in Memphis and that he was also vocal on Miami's championship team in 2006.
"I worked on that a little bit,'' Posey said of his development into a vocal leader. "I had always tried to lead by example, just go out there and work hard and set the tone that way. But then I got more comfortable and my teammates respected me and how I approached the game and the things I've been through.''
Back at All-Star Weekend, when Pierce and Allen approached P.J. Brown about joining the Celtics while Snoop Dogg was performing at the Players' Association party in New Orleans, Brown never thought in his wildest dreams that he'd play such a major role in Boston's march toward a title. He's as surprised as anyone that he's been such a key contributor at 38 years of age.
"Nobody saw me playing this big of a role, including me,'' he said after Game 4. "I think everybody, to be honest, thought I was kind of like an insurance policy here. That's how I even approached it. I just thought, 'Hey, I'm going to come here and if I'm needed, I'll try my best to contribute.' Because this team has chemistry and I didn't want to mess with it. I didn't want to come in and have them think I feel like I'm entitled to a position. I always felt like I needed to earn my way on this team. And I'm in a fortunate position that Doc has had trust in me to let me go out there and he believes in my 15 years that I can go out there and help this team and make a difference. This is huge. It's something I did not envision. It's like a dream.''
Eddie House heard all the talk before Game 4 about how the Celtics wouldn't be able to run their offense without Rajon Rondo, and, not surprisingly, he took it personally. That made his 11-point, 4-rebound performance that much sweeter.
"Being a competitor, you have to [take it personal],'' House said. "It was kind of like the situation against Detroit when Lindsey [Hunter] got in me; I felt like coach didn't really give me a chance to combat that. So I figured out different ways to use my quickness and my change of direction to get us in the offense and tonight, [Jordan] Farmar tried to pressure me, [Derek] Fisher tried to pressure me, but I still got to where I wanted to go and got us in our offense.''
Leon Powe doesn't want to pronounce the Lakers dead just yet, but he knows they're on life support. "A loss like that can break their heart,'' he said. "It has to piss them off. I know it would piss me off.''
I've heard people question Doc Rivers' coaching for a long time, and now it's time to give Doc credit. He's been great all year, and, at the very least, he's held his own with arguably the greatest coach of all-time in this series. And in Game 4, he clearly out-coached Phil Jackson, running circles around the Zen Master when he went to the small lineup of House, Allen, Pierce, Posey and Garnett. Meanwhile, Jackson made blunders by sitting Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher for critical stretches late in the game. And, with all due respect to Tom Thibodeau, who is a fantastic assistant coach, Rivers deserves to get the lion's share of the credit as far as the Celtics' coaching staff goes. Larry Bird got the credit when he let Dick Harter and Rick Carlisle do the bulk of the coaching in Indiana, and Phil Jackson gets all the credit even though everyone knows that Tex Winter has long been the mind behind his triangle offense. Rivers is secure enough to let Thibodeau work Boston's defense and stand up and scream during games. But make no mistake, Rivers is the coach that makes the Celtics go.
At halftime, when Odom was tearing it up, taking 15 points, 8 boards and 3 dimes into the locker room, I approached his dad, Joseph Odom, and step mom, Cecilia Odom. They were seated behind one of the baskets, a few feet behind Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith. They gave me the secret to Odom's hot start: In every previous home playoff game for the Lakers, all of which they attended, the Odoms were late, arriving sometime in the second quarter. It wasn't their fault; it was because the car service Lamar set up for them was picking them up late from the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey (plus the traffic). But they had the car pick them up early last night, and they were in their seats at tip-off. Lamar noticed, and Cecilia said that inspired him.
"He makes sure we sit where he can see us,'' Cecilia said. "Every game we make eye contact with him. I give him a wink and blow him a kiss and he smiles. Before tonight's game I told him, 'Get your game on, Baby Boy.' But now that he's a little older, I've started calling him L.O. instead of Baby Boy.''
By the way, Joseph, 54, is 6-3 and told me he had mad game back in the day. He played point guard at Brooklyn's legendary Boys High (home of Pearl Washington) and taught Lamar all he knows.
"Everybody in Brooklyn tells me they see me when Lamar plays,'' Joseph said. "I had game like him, or should I say, he's got game like me.''
There were tons of stars at last night's game, but a couple disappointed me by leaving the game with 46.8 seconds left and the Lakers trailing, 92-89 (that was just before Pierce made two free throws to push the margin to five points). Floyd Mayweather and Keyshawn Johnson split with the game in the balance. I know they were probably trying to beat the crowd, but dang, anything could've happened with 47 ticks left.
Chris Broussard is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.